Are you thinking about making your investments in ruthenium? You should then read this primer first because it will broaden your understanding of the metal – what it is, what it is used for, and what its mining prospects are, among others. You will then be able to decide whether the risks and rewards of ruthenium investments are up your alley or not.
Ruthenium is a rare transition metal with the symbol “Ru” and atomic number “44”. This is part of the platinum group of metals, which include iridium and osmium, so it also has inert qualities in relation to most chemicals outside of its group.
Karl Ernst Claus, a Baltic German scientists, discovered the chemical element in 1844. It name is in honor of Claus’ homeland, the Russian Empire. Since its discovery, several uses have been found for ruthenium from thick-film resistors and wear-resistant electrical contacts to platinum alloys and chemical catalysts. Many more uses are being discovered, a good thing considering that its rareness should be maximized.
The annual ruthenium production is 20 tons from countries as varied as South Africa and the former USSR. Emphasis must be made that ruthenium isn’t mined on its own but rather found in platinum ores in comparatively minor quantities. The percentage of ruthenium found in mined platinum group metals (PGM) range from 11% from PGMs mined in South Africa to just 2% from PGMs in the former USSR.
But there’s another factor that affects the annual production of ruthenium. Like the other PGMs, ruthenium can only be obtained in commercial quantities as a by-product of platinum, copper and nickel metal ore processing. The issues that affect the commercial production from mining to processing of these metals will affect ruthenium production.
For these reasons, the prices of ruthenium can also vary in the market. Individuals interested in making ruthenium investments should pay close attention to the rise and fall of these prices so that appropriate measures can be made for the protection of their interests. There are many sources available online, especially the metalary.com website, which can provide reliable and relevant information about ruthenium prices, updates and other matters that can affect it.
Ruthenium is used in a wide range of industrial and commercial applications.
In electrical contacts
Because ruthenium hardens when combined in palladium and platinum alloys, it is used in electrical contacts mainly to make them more durable (i.e., a thin film is applied). The metal is preferred over rhodium because it hast similar costs but has a more affordable price.
In thick-film chip resistors
The use of ruthenium dioxide combined with lead and bismuth ruthenates is also common. In fact, approximately 50% of ruthenium use is for these electronic applications.
The rare transition metal is seldom combined with other metals outside of its own platinum group (i.e., as an alloy). But when it’s combined in an alloy metal, the result can be impressive – as a super-alloy, in particular. Examples include special titanium alloys with 0.1% ruthenium; single-crystal super-alloys able to withstand extreme temperatures (e.g., used in jet engines’ turbines); and nickel-based super-alloys. These are obviously used in commercial and industrial applications.
Even ordinary consumers may have used ruthenium alloys in their products, the most notable examples of which are fountain pens. The Parker 51 fountain pen, for example, has a ruthenium nib made from a 14-karat gold nib with a ruthenium (96.2%) and iridium (3.8%) tip. Even the production of chlorine from salt water requires the use of ruthenium!
In the medical industry
Ruthenium also has medical applications, many of which are actually life-saving. First, it’s used as a biological stain in electron microscopy and light microscopy. Second, its beta-decaying isotope 106 is used in the treatment of eye tumors, particularly in melanomas of the uvea. There are even scientists researching on its anti-cancer properties.
In conversion of solar energy
At present, the uses of certain ruthenium complexes for solar energy production are still being researched but the initial results are, indeed, promising. For example, dye-sensitized solar cells contain ruthenium-based compounds to increase their power efficiency.
Scientists in a wide range of disciplines are also researching on many more applications for ruthenium including its compounds and complexes. Their growing body of research is based on the impressive, if not unusual, properties of the rare transition metals that can be used in industrial and commercial applications. These properties include but aren’t limited to exotic superconductivity, quantum critical point behavior, and high-temperature ferromagnetism.
While these terms may be beyond the grasp of the layman, these terms are important in understanding the increasing desirability of ruthenium in the modern world. As an interested investor, you will find that the more uses there are for the rare transition metal, the more likely your metal investments will be profitable and sustainable.